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How to Lose the Republic w/Gordon Lloyd (San Francisco Chronicle) April 12, 2011

Posted by daviddavenport in Newspaper Columns/Essays.

When Benjamin Franklin was asked what kind of government the newly signed Constitution established, he responded, “A republic, if you can keep it.” The National Popular Vote bill, recently introduced in the California Legislature, is a poster child for how to lose the republic.

The genius of a republic is that it combines checks and balances along with structures of stability to temper pure democracy. Specific elements – such as the composition of the U.S. Senate or the functioning of the Electoral College or assigning roles to states as well as to the federal government – may seem obstructionist or even anti-democratic on their own, but they function together to assure that the deliberate sense of the people is carried out in a stable, orderly way. But with 2012 presidential politics already in the air, those who fear the Electoral College seek to circumvent it through a bill that would require state electors to vote for the winner of the national popular vote.

This is a clever attempt to eliminate the role of electors – required by Article II of the Constitution – and even the role of states in national elections without the difficult and more deliberative (and transparent) process of amending the Constitution.

Because we are a nation of states as well as people, the Constitution provides a role for both in the election of a president, a national popular vote and a state electoral vote. Before we effectively do away with the electoral vote system, we should consider several practical benefits it provides even today:

— It alters the way candidates campaign, requiring them to seek electoral votes all over the country, rather than concentrate on a few large population centers.

— It limits the uncertainty of any recount to one or two states, rather than the national recount we would otherwise see.

— It also makes more difficult the proliferation of candidates many countries experience in a national popular vote.

So why have a Republican and a Democrat joined to introduce the national popular vote bill in California? Their primary concern seems to be that California get more attention in presidential campaigns – presumably more candidate visits and television commercials (the latter a mixed blessing in hotly contested states, we hear). Then, in a year when the election may be close, there are fears of a repeat of 2000 when Al Gore won the popular vote, but George W. Bush won the presidency. This has happened, by the way, only four times in our history, leaving a “success rate” of over 90 percent.

Is that a sufficient case to allow an end-run around the Constitution and the erosion of the republic? We think not.

If there is to be electoral reform, then let states consider assigning electoral votes by congressional districts, rather than winner-take-all, as Nebraska and Maine now do. Or let them challenge the Constitutional system directly through the amendment process. In the meantime, let’s follow Benjamin Franklin’s admonition and keep the republic.

David Davenport is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution. Gordon Lloyd is a professor of public policy at Pepperdine University.
To view the article:  http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2011/04/12/EDNJ1IUBJ2.DTL

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